Adrian Rice

from Eleventh Night (A Sequence in Progress)

Adrian Rice

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Burning Love

At school, big boys ink-in the soft flesh between

Their forefinger and middle finger to make it seem

Like they are sporting ‘fanny’, the term they use

When they boast about the place that we still view

With a kind of Halloween fascination:

Though we will feign familiarisation,

Of course, faking manly knowledge of the great

Girlish unknown. We can recognise the get-

Up of the strut: leggy model, knuckle-kneed,

Finger nails as toenails painted to succeed

In attracting the big boys, who’re now walking

Fingers on desktops, scissoring them with glee.

     Or back in the ‘Coole, they press palms together

Either side of some open-faced fence chicken wire

And tell us that it feels just like fanny lips

Or the firm, forgiving flesh of budding breasts.

And then, if you slip a hand under a skirt

And run it up above the smooth stocking top

To the softest skin-silk of opening thighs,

You are in to see the whites of willing eyes.

     Sometimes we catch them in action behind the

Maisonettes, involved in sex scenes fit for Huh?

Two on one, a young thing stretched across their knees

On the late night, bulb-fused, Baltic, cement steps,

Being played like a four-handed piano –

Two on the white bits; two on the dark below.

Or in a disused coal shed behind bricked houses

Where Wranglers are unzipped to undone blouses,

There are big boys, bone-hard, and wet at the tip,

With big girls in need of salve for swollen lips,

Proving the best and worst that love can offer.

We spy through rusty keyholes (What the Butler

Saw!) or listen long outside closed doors to moans

Which clearly come from a good place; and to groans

Which sound closer to a bad horror movie,

The kind that one just can’t bring oneself to see,

Which make it hard to tell if it is really

Wanted or not – being stolen; not for free.

     In these concrete cities, jungles of hormones,

Every type of situation happens,

Same as in the privileged suburban scene,

But often rawer, more brutal, more obscene,

More often on the wrong side of right and wrong.

Like when young babysitters play horsey on

The man of the house’s lap before the wife

Comes home; or find themselves fighting for their life

In the backs of parked cars before being dropped

Off outside their mummy’s door with their pocket

Money wet with tears, silence-sworn forever

For fear of the fallout if Da were aware.

Or when older women get backed against side walls,

Being had by drunken men with bully balls.

But justice can come by the old dog eat dog,

When such meet their maker in a cold bar bog.

     Despite the risky outweighing the risqué,

And lust shading love on a given day,

‘Coole girls and boys still curl up their lips and move

To The King’s own hunk-a-hunk of burning love.



Adrian Rice


Adrian Rice is from Belfast, Northern Ireland.  He graduated from the University of Ulster with a BA in English & Politics, and MPhil in Anglo-Irish Literature. He has delivered writing workshops, readings, and lectures throughout the UK & Ireland, and America.  His first sequence of poems appeared in Muck Island (Moongate Publications, 1990), a collaboration with leading Irish artist, Ross Wilson. Copies of this limited edition box-set are housed in the collections of The Tate Gallery, and The Boston Museum of Fine Arts. In 1997, Rice received the Sir James Kilfedder Memorial Bursary for Emerging Artists.  In autumn 1999, as recipient of the US/Ireland Exchange Bursary, he was Poet-in-Residence at Lenoir-Rhyne College, Hickory, NC.  His first full poetry collection – The Mason’s Tongue (Abbey Press, 1999) – was shortlisted for the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Literary Prize, nominated for the Irish Times Prize for Poetry, and translated into Hungarian by Thomas Kabdebo (A Komuves Nyelve, epl/ediotio plurilingua, 2005).  In 2002, he co-edited a major Irish anthology entitled, A Conversation Piece: Poetry and Art (The Ulster Museum in association with Abbey Press).  His poems and reviews have been broadcast internationally on radio and television, and have been published in several international magazines and journals.  Selections of his poetry and prose have appeared in both The Belfast Anthology and The Ulster Anthology (Ed., Patricia Craig, Blackstaff Press, 1999 & 2006) and in Magnetic North: The Emerging Poets (Ed., John Brown, Lagan Press, 2006). A chapbook, Hickory Haiku, was published in 2010 by Finishing Line Press, Kentucky. Rice returned to Lenoir-Rhyne College as Visiting Writer-in-Residence for 2005.  Since then, Adrian and his wife Molly, and young son, Micah, have settled in Hickory, from where he now commutes to Boone for Doctoral studies at Appalachian State University.  Turning poetry into lyrics, he has also teamed up with Hickory-based and fellow Belfastman, musician/songwriter Alyn Mearns, to form ‘The Belfast Boys’, a dynamic Irish Traditional Music duo.  Their debut album, Songs For Crying Out Loud, was released in 2010.  Adrian’s last book, The Clock Flower (2013), and his latest, Hickory Station (2015) are both published by Press 53 (Winston-Salem).  A poem from Hickory Station, “Breath”, first published in the Asheville Poetry Review, has just earned him a Pushcart Prize nomination.